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In his third bid for the presidency, former Vice President Joe Biden has long been considered a 2020 Democratic frontrunner. But recent polls show him losing ground to Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren -- especially in Iowa. Judy Woodruff joined Biden on the campaign trail to discuss the impeachment inquiry, primary poll numbers, his age, the U.S. economy, health care and more.
And now to Iowa, where our own Judy Woodruff interviewed former Vice President Joe Biden earlier today.
Most of the Democratic candidates for president are here in Des Moines, Iowa, tonight for a dinner to rally their party and fire up their voters.
No one has more on the line than former Vice President Joe Biden, who is making his third run for president in this state, and facing stiff competition from rivals who right now are ahead of him in the polls.
I sat down with him this afternoon to talk about the challenges he faces.
Vice President Joe Biden, thank you very much for talking with us.
It's great to be back with you. Thank you for having me.
Let's start with impeachment.
This is a historic week, the House vote. You are one of the few people who was around for both the Nixon impeachment and the Clinton impeachment. You know the seriousness of this.
So, my question is, do you believe that the focus should narrowly be on Ukraine and the conversation about you, investigating you? Or should it be broader, to include the Mueller report, potential financial impropriety?
I think it has to include it all.
Look, this is — as you know, Judy, an impeachment is a difficult thing for a country to go through, even the impeachment process. And it's not like you look forward to that.
But, you know, there are potential significant violations of constitutional responsibility. And the House has no choice but to move forward.
And I think it has to look at all the things that they said they were going to look at, because I said at the outset that…
All the things?
All the things, yes, I mean, the financial impropriety, the actions of — well, what they have laid out. I think they have an obligation to do that under the Constitution.
And it could be difficult, but I think they have no choice, if the Constitution requires it.
So that's different from the House approach. Right now, they're saying narrowly Ukraine. So I wanted to get your clarification.
Well, whatever they decide to do is for them to decide to do.
But there are other areas that he has stonewalled, the administration has stonewalled, including the Mueller report and possible conflicts of interest.
But, look, their job is to do their — take on their constitutional responsibility. And my job, if I'm the nominee, is to beat him.
The phone call between the president, President Trump, and the president of Ukraine.
Now that there are White House aides saying that there were — there was material left out of the transcript of that call, do you believe the president is involved in a cover-up?
Look, you have some of the finest people in the administration feeling they have to come forward and say exactly what they heard and what they knew.
The idea that someone would invite a foreign power into our election and, in the process, withhold, apparently — the allegation of some within the administration who heard the conversations — withhold vital aid, military aid, voted for by the Congress, while Ukrainians are dying in the Donbass — that is, the Eastern Ukraine — in order to take on Russians who are there still killing them, killing these people, is just — I — it's one of the things that no president that I'm aware of has ever thought of doing.
But is there a danger in this impeachment process, in that now we see the vote was almost entirely along party lines?
President Trump, this — is saying is all about Democrats trying to make up for what happened in 2016, that they're out to get him, that they're trying to basically overturn the election. Plus, he's saying it's never been done in an election year.
Could this end up hurting…
Well, it could. There's no — they have — we have — the House has no — they have a constitutional responsibility.
Imagine if you didn't investigate this. What does that do to future presidents, if we have another person like Trump give a green light?
The one thing George Washington, in fact, warned us about in his farewell address was, republics fall because of intervention from foreign powers, foreign powers in our electoral process.
That's exactly what's apparently happened here. They have to investigate it, even if it is politically damaging.
Well, let's talk about this campaign. We're in Iowa.
You know this state very well. You ran for president here twice.
You ran as Barack Obama's vice president, running mate, twice. You have to win here.
Well, I think I will win here.
And, right now, look, the Iowans are very — there's a basic pattern.
They take a long time to make up their minds.
And I think there's three or four of us basically in a dead heat right now in the polling data. And — but…
But you are running third or fourth in several polls. You're running five points behind Elizabeth Warren…
… in one poll and behind Pete Buttigieg.
Well, now, look, be honest. It's one point. It means a statistical tie. You know better than anybody those — that there's a margin of error of three to four points in these polls.
But the point is that it's not unusual. That's how these primaries always work in Iowa.
Nationally, I'm beating Elizabeth Warren by double digits most places. But — so, I'm not looking at the polls. What I'm looking at is, do we have the resources, the organization, and am I getting around enough to be able to make my case? And I think we can do that.
Your favorite question, your age.
You were asked about President Jimmy Carter's comment not long ago that he doesn't think someone should serve as president after 80, that the job is too demanding.
You were asked. You said no, but the experience counts.
But The New York Times had a story yesterday saying that a number of Democrats are worried.
And I'm just going to read about what it says have been your uneven performances on the debate stage and verbal miscues as a campaigner preventing you from presenting a strong and confident presence as a candidate.
Look at me. OK?
The fact of the matter is that the people who — they went out and found people who said that. I don't doubt people said that.
But I have not — there's a significant number of people, the overwhelming number of people haven't worried about any miscue or not.
Look, this is for the voters to decide. Take a look. Look at me. See if I have the energy. See if I know what I'm talking about, and make their judgment.
And it's as simple and as complicated as that.
New jobs numbers out today look pretty good. The unemployment rate is staying very low, 3.6 percent. It's as low as it's been in 50 years.
President Trump has a strong hand going into the…
… absolutely wrong about that.
Look — go back to your own neighborhood. Find me middle-class folks who think they're better off. Find me anybody out there who thinks their children are going to be as well-off as they are.
Do you think they are, in fact, actually able to benefit from what's happening here? We're now in a position where wages are stagnant. They're going up slightly, but not enough. Part-time workers are being counted.
I mean, look, the numbers, I don't look at. What I look at is what I hear in the street and what I look at in my own neighborhood.
The vast — all the studies show, if a parent — if a middle-class person got a bill for 400 bucks in one month, they would have to borrow the money or sell something.
That's not security. That's not security. So I think that that's what the voters will decide. I think the middle class is being left behind, and working people are being left behind by these policies.
Democrats in the past have been identified as the working people's party. You're lunch pail Joe. That's how you have run in the past.
But, increasingly, in the last few years, people look at the Democratic Party and they say, it's become the party of the elites, of academics, well-educated, liberal, urban folks, while the Republicans, yes, they have got the wealthy, business owners, but they have also got the working class.
Look at who Donald Trump…
Well, they haven't got the working class. That's not accurate. They haven't got the working class.
They dug into some of the working class in America, because they felt like they weren't being paid attention to. They felt like we weren't paying attention to their concerns.
Look, what's happened around America is, look at the efforts to prevent unions from organizing. Look at the efforts that now you have to sign non-compete agreements if you for a fast-food chain, so you won't go across town to get another job at a fast-food chain.
Look at what's happening to the American workers. They're being stifled. It has to end.
And when the middle class and working class does well, and unions organize, everybody does better. The poor do better. The middle class are able to maintain themselves. And the rich do very well.
But my point is, the Democratic Party is not seen anymore as exclusively the home for working class.
Well, Joe Biden's Democratic Party is. And that's what it's going to be.
Watch. Look at the numbers, how I beat Trump in Pennsylvania, in Ohio, in Minnesota, in all those middle-class, working-class states.
That's why he doesn't want to run against me.
So much to ask you. Health care.
Elizabeth Warren today put out an estimate for the cost of her Medicare for all plan.
She put it at around $20 trillion over a number of years. In the past, the estimate had been $34 trillion. She's talking about making it up with — the difference with targeted defense spending cuts, a wealth tax, cracking down on tax evaders.
She's making it up.
She's making — look, nobody thinks it's $20 trillion. It's between $30 trillion and $40 trillion, every major independent study that's gone out there that's taken a look at this.
There's no way. Even Bernie, who talks about the need to raise middle-class taxes, he can't even meet the cost of it.
Look, we don't have to go that route. All we have to do is go back, restore Obamacare, make it — provide a public option, further subsidize the ability to get into a gold plan. My plan will cost about $750 billion over 10 years. We can pay for that.
It doesn't cost $3.4 trillion per year. And it can be done now, not in four years, not in eight years, not in 10 years, like they're talking about.
If the Democratic nominee for president next year is someone who supports single-payer, something like Medicare for all, is that an automatic loser for Democrats?
Let me put it this way.
I think it is going to be very difficult to even get a Democratic Congress to vote for that. I think it's going to be very difficult to get Democrats to vote for that, when they find out what the cost is.
The net increase in what's out of pocket for them, counting what they would save in health care costs, is going to be up exponentially. Some of the recent studies show you would have to increase the withholding tax by 25 percent to get there.
Another subject, the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
He told a reporter this week who asked him about your criticism of him that he has spent a lot of time in the White House — and I'm quoting him — "cleaning up the messes" that you left behind.
And, in particular — I'm quoting — "the reforms enacted by this administration," the Trump administration, he said, "roll back a lot of the very harsh laws that were created and partially written by Vice President Biden over 20 years ago, which put a lot of African-Americans in prison and really destroyed a generation and did a lot of harm to our country."
Look, I thought he was a foreign policy guy. I didn't know he was also a criminal justice person.
Look, I guess the best way to answer the question in a short amount of time, why is it that I get overwhelming support from the African-American community?
When the law was written, why was it that members of Black Caucus supported it? Why was it that the black mayors of the city — of the country supported me? Why is it that I have more support from the African-American community today than everybody else combined?
Back to the Ukraine controversy.
Your son Hunter, you have been asked a lot of questions about this.
But my question is, both of you have said you wouldn't, as president, have your children, have him or your children involved with foreign countries.
My question is, if it's not appropriate if Joe Biden is president, why was it appropriate when you were vice president?
Well, number one, no one has established that he anything wrong or that I have done anything wrong, period.
I have carried out the policy of the United States of America, our allies in the International Monetary Fund, the E.U., in dealing with a corrupt prosecutor, period, number one.
I didn't know he was on the board of that company. And, in fact, no one has asserted on the board that it illegal for him to be on the board or he did anything wrong.
But, if you had known, would you have said, don't, or would you have believed — said, this is wrong?
No, it's not wrong.
He — his words speak for themselves. He wished he had realized how thugs like Rudy Giuliani and his cronies and the cronies of the president would try to paint it. The fact is, there's been nothing established that he did anything wrong.
The reason for saying my children wouldn't be involved in foreign affairs and/or in any affairs is because of what's happened in this administration, this administration.
I want to make sure everybody understands that there's going to be a hard, fast rule. No one in my family will be involved in anything. They will not have offices in the White House. They will not sit in on Cabinet meetings. They will not have foreign interests.
And the fact is that all of what's been said, as you have observed — I'm not asking you to agree with this, but as you have observed — has been basically, usually, mainstream reporters say, and Trump said. But it's not true. It's been a lie.
Why is he doing it? He doesn't want to run against me, period.
We also talked about several foreign policy hot spots that he would have to deal with as president.
There's news this week, to the extent that some of the Democrats are saying that, if — because of Israel's settlements policy, that they would look at cutting off military aid to Israel as a result of that.
That would be a tragic mistake.
I strongly oppose Israel's settlement policy on the West Bank. I have made that clear to Bibi when we were — when I was vice president. I have made it crystal clear to the Israelis.
But the idea that we would cut off military aid to an ally, our only true, true ally in the entire region, is absolutely preposterous. It's just beyond my comprehension anyone would do that.
This is an administration that, as you know, advocated moving the capital of Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.
If you are elected president, would you reverse that?
Not now. I wouldn't reverse it. I wouldn't have done it in the first place.
Very last question.
Campaigning here in Iowa.
You have been campaigning in this state for a long time…
… running for president.
Have you changed the way you reach out to people and the way you connect?
No, I haven't.
Everybody knows I mean what I say. The problem is, sometimes, I say all that I mean.
And what I find is that the value set of Iowan people are a little like where I was raised, whether it was in Scranton or Claymont. They just — they do think honesty matters. They do think straightforwardness matters. They do think it matters whether or not you treat people with respect.
And I just think that, for me, I am who I am. The good news is, everybody knows who I am, and the bad news, they know who I am. My weaknesses are real. My strengths are real.
And I think, right now, I hope, that the strengths I bring to this contest are ones that are most needed by the country in their leader right now.
But we will see. This is a long — this is a marathon.
Vice President Biden, thank you.
Well, thank you very much, Judy.
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Broadcast journalist Judy Woodruff is the anchor and managing editor of the PBS NewsHour. She has covered politics and other news for five decades at NBC, CNN and PBS.
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